Secretary Gates made news last week taking Congress to task for pushing to add more F-22 fighter aircraft to the Pentagon's budget. Public opinion on who is right is covers the spectrum. The USA Today editorial page opines, "Let's see if we have this right: The nation is struggling with an unprecedented $1.7 trillion budget deficit and fighting two wars against low-tech guerillas who have no aircraft. But Congress wants to keep building more and more copies of a hyper-expensive fighter jet that was designed for Cold War aerial battles against a country -- the Soviet Union -- that no longer exists." Writing for the Atlanta Constitution, Kyle Wingfield counters, "[k]illing the F-22 program in the name of fiscal sanity would be another example of how this administration is penny-wise but trillion-dollar-foolish."
Mackenzie Eaglen at the Heritage Foundation took a hard look at issue in her analysis on the state of the military's tactical air fleet. In a recent research paper "The Growing Air Power Fighter Gap: Implications for U.S. National Security" she and coauthor Lajos F. Szaszdi concluded "[t]he immediate threat to America's air power does not originate from foreign nations, but from President Obama's fiscal year 2010 defense budget request that would halt funding for key replacement programs, such as the F-22."
After examining the administration's long term needs she concluded that:
[t]he proposed FY 2010 budget would end F-22 production, limiting the ability of the U.S. to achieve air superiority in the future. Russia's state-run military industrial base is focusing on producing advanced fifth-generation fighters with some nearly sixth-generation capabilities. If Russia exports these advanced fighters, it will multiply the potential threats and opportunities for U.S. fighters to engage in combat with enemy fifth-generation aircraft. Additionally, given the U.S. military's global commitments, the 187 F-22s will likely operate in the different theaters, all but ensuring that they will be outnumbered in any potential engagement. Congress should appropriate funds to buy at least the full initial order of 286 F-22s to ensure air superiority over the next two decades, beginning with a purchase of 20 F-22s in FY 2010.
Her findings directly contradict Gate's position. In another paper she writes, "Gates has insisted repeatedly that there is no 'military requirement' for more than 187 F-22s and that that level is sufficient to meet foreseeable threats. However, numerous air power studies, senior Air Force leaders, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and independent analysts have all documented a military requirement of at least 243 F-22As."
Elsewhere, Eaglen argues that the Congress should support an allied variant of the F-22.